Magic Pengel: the Quest for Color

Magic Pengel: the Quest for Color

Written by Cyril Lachel on 9/10/2003 for PS2  

There are some things I have never been very good at, like ice fishing or break-dancing. But then there are things I am so hideously unskilled at; you would be hard pressed to find somebody worse than me. Unfortunately, drawing falls into the latter category. You could put me up against a kid in pre-school, the blind, and a monkey, and I would assuredly come in fourth place.

It’s not that I don’t like art, quite the contrary. I have always enjoyed art, from abstract to your basic dogs playing poker arrangement. But I have never been able to partake in the process of making a good-looking drawing. That is, until now. Thanks to Magic Pengel: the Quest for Color, I have been able to take my pathetic stick figure characters and turn them into god-like fighting monsters.

What sets this adventure game apart from all the others is its rather ingenious (if not gimmicky) drawing program that is at the core of the action. Instead of giving you a redesigned character, Magic Pengel actually allows you to draw your own. It starts simple enough, as you have to draw a body and arms, but as you win matches and progress through the quest you will soon be able to make a head, legs, weapons, and much more.

Before too long you are out battling other creatures to build up experience and increase your doodle’s health. The world you navigate has number of arenas that facilitate fights against computer-drawn opponents. At first these characters seem like they are only there to deflate your opinion of your artwork, but as you start winning matches you realize what designs work and what doesn’t.

The combat in the game is easy to control, if not a bit on the simplistic side. A fight will play out like the classic hand game “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, in which you are forced to choose an attack and hope that the opponent isn’t picking something stronger. For example, Attack beats Barrier, Barrier beats Magic, and Magic beat Attack. Your character can also restore its life by charging, but essentially these are the only commands at your disposal.

The problem with this style turn-based fighting is that it is often left up to pure luck, and rarely does skill factor in. Even when you build bigger and better doodles, the game just puts you up against bigger and better adversaries, so the “sometimes you win, sometimes you lose” game play never seems to go away.

The story never seems to pick up, either. Told through extremely long cinemas, the story seems to just drag on, and not once did I ever wonder what was coming next. Since there isn’t any puzzle solving, the actual game seems somewhat isolated from the story. If you were to completely ignore the story, you’d never know it by playing the game.

And to add insult to injury, gamers who are eager to start fighting can’t even skip these slow-moving cinema scenes. The story is nothing short of cornball, and the dialog moves so slow, it feels like the actors are sounding the words out as they go along. Looking back at it now, the story elements of Magic Pengel are on par with stubbing your toe, setting fire to your hair, or watching laundry dry.
While the graphics are inspired, a lot of the game just tends to look the same after awhile. The characters, at least the humans, have a somewhat washed-out look, and never seem to rise above under whelming. The animation is cute, but nothing we haven’t already seen on the original PlayStation almost 8 years ago.

In this world of bland colors, look alike buildings, and uninteresting characters, the only thing that really stands out is your doodle. Regardless of whether its just looking around the ranch or fighting in one of the arenas, your creation almost seems to stand out thanks to its bright colors and defined outline. It will probably be pretty funky looking, especially if you spend enough time playing and tweaking its look.

For an adventure game, Magic Pengel has an odd way of making you feel strangely claustrophobic. The world you float around in is nothing more than a few buildings, a handful of interesting town’s people, a castle, and various side paths. The game never takes you too far from your home, which is where you draw your characters and save your progress. In effect, the game doesn’t feel very grand in scale, and comes off more as an excuse to feature a unique drawing program.

You navigate through the world using your cute little Pengel creature, which looks like a paintbrush crossed with a squirrel. Your Pengel can float all around the screen, but he will always return to his center-of-the-screen perch when you aren’t touching the right analog stick. Since the game doesn’t require quick dodging, or even any exploration, it’s anybody’s guess why you can float around the screen, but it does add for some diversion when flying to your next destination.

Like the pace of the game, your Pengel’s flight is frustratingly slow. He also has a tendency to get caught up on invisible walls if you don’t keep him on the extremely linear path. There are also a number of questionably long load screens you will have to wade through in order to even fight one single match. By itself this isn’t terrible, but over time your patience for the game will start to fall.

The game will surely be compared to Pokemon, or any of the other trendy games with funky looking monsters fighting for some unknown reason. But the truth is, Magic Pengel has an uncanny similarity to Monster Rancher (for the original PlayStation). Like Magic Pengel, Bandai’s creature nurturing game also featured a gimmick, one that allowed you to use any CD to create a random monster. The game also had a rather limited combat system, was fairly repetitive, not to mention under whelming graphics.

But Monster Rancher was fun, and frankly, so is Magic Pengel. This is the type of game that could spawn a cult following. I wouldn’t be surprised to see fan sites pop up all over the Internet displaying their best (and worst) doodles. If you get into the whole concept of drawing characters and tweaking them to look just right, this is a game that could potentially last for hundreds of hours.

I was a little worried about my lack of artistic talent, but the game is amazingly intuitive, and before too long I felt like I was drawing like a pro. Instead of punishing you for not getting the design right the first time, the game seems to reward you for trying again, and eventually getting it just perfect. Even if it fails as an adventure game, Magic Pengel truly is one of the most captivating gimmicks I’ve seen in a long, long time.

The game certainly won’t make your friends stop playing Soul Calibur II, but with the right kind of community, Magic Pengel is the sort of game that can go a very long way. It’s also made for all ages, so I wouldn’t be surprised if even youngsters were captivated by the theme of the title. Regardless of whether or not you actually find it, the Quest for Color is an engaging game that is almost as entertaining as it is original.
Magic Pengel falls a little short of being an epic adventure game, but manages to be one of the most original games of the year. Even if you’ve never fancied yourself an artist, Taito is here to show you just how little practice you need to draw the perfect doodle.

Rating: 7.8 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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